A Van Gogh!

A Van Gogh!
From the artists at ArtWorks945

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What a Night!

Friday night we held the auction.

Tyler and I met at 7 to set up.  We hung about twenty paintings by artists from ArtWorks945 on the second floor of Summit Coffee Shop.  A three-piece band began to prepare for their gig.  Their music provided a lovely backdrop to the auction. 

Around 7:45 people started to trickle in.  I had a beer with my friends Matt and Dave to calm my nerves.  At that point I really had no idea how things were going to go.  Was anyone going to bid on Charlie’s painting?  I had no idea.

At 8, we opened the bidding. 

It took a little bit for the bidding to get off the ground.  Indeed, after forty minutes of no bids, my nerves pricked up.  I even sent a text to my friend Rob in New York expressing my dismay.

Despite the lack of bids, however, the event itself was taking off.  Many of my best friends came; a reporter from a local paper was there; two students showed up; and many others milled about.  I had very pleasant conversations with several people about Charlie’s painting.  And there was without a doubt a definite buzz in the room. 

And then, around 9:00, the first bid was made.  A consortium of local investors led by Nick, the owner of the Brickhouse bid $700. 

It had begun. 

My nerves went into overdrive.  I drank some more wine.

Eventually, bids started to come in from four different sources.  I won’t go into all the details.  But it was incredibly fascinating to watch.  The last fifteen minutes was about as exciting a fifteen minutes as I have ever had.  The bidding became a furious competition.  I can see why people like auctions!

I have included a picture of the bidding card.

As you can see from the first line, the bids started at $651.21, which was the amount that had been raised through the cumulative auction that I held online.

As you can also see from the card, the final bid was $1400. 


I’ll say it again: Yes!

At 10 O’ Clock, when the final bid was in, I was stunned. 

Charlie’s painting sold at auction for $1400.

I still am stunned.  I simply could not be happier about the result.  Between the cumulative auction and last night, Charlie’s painting brought in over $2051.21, which is close to double its original value. 

Charlie’s Law, it would seem, has been confirmed.

And who purchased the painting?  

Cargo Logistics Network, an import-export business based in Charlotte.

Cami Meador, director of operations, attended the auction and purchased the painting on behalf of CLN, which she owns and operates with her partner David.

After the auction, I talked to Cami, who wanted to stress the importance of corporations becoming involved in philanthropy.  Unlike most individuals, corporations, Cami said, have the financial means both to raise money for and to give money to charitable organizations. 

In addition to finding ArtWorks945 a very worthy cause, Cami was also clearly impressed by Charlie’s painting -- She not only saw its intrinsic aesthetic merits but also seemed to have a sense of its potential historical significance.

There really is so much more I could add.  But I think any more words I write will simply fall short.

Plato was right -- words cannot capture beauty.  One must simply experience it. 

And that night, a night in which the most unlikely painting captured the imaginations of a group of people all of whom were willing to spend money not just to have a historically significant painting but also to help an organization that allows homeless people the joy of artistic expression, I experienced beauty in what I can only think comes close to its purest form.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hegelian Syntheses

 Though I am perhaps overanalyzing the current situation, I can’t help but think that Hegelian structures characterize the auction for Charlie’s painting that will be held this Friday. 

According to Hegel, the world trundles along as a result of two opposing forces, a thesis and an antithesis, which yield to a third structure, a synthesis.  The synthesis, Hegel claimed, resolves the inner conflict of the thesis and antithesis and in so doing exists on a higher more advanced plane than them.

With respect to the forthcoming auction, there is on the one hand a thesis: aesthetic value.  What an incredibly rarefied thing.  It really is hard to say what it is, so hard in fact that many philosophers have even denied its existence.  

Nonetheless, despite aesthetic value’s elusive nature, one thing is certain -- art in all its forms has the ability to move people to profound almost mystical states of reverie.  Beethoven’s 9th, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Van Gogh’s Starry Night: Who can fail to be moved by the profundity they contain?  

Then there is the antithesis: homelessness.  It is not rarefied; it does not move people to states of reverie; and it certainly is not among humanity’s greatest achievements.  Indeed, quite the opposite.  Homelessness is not only utterly concrete, but it represents one of the great failings of contemporary society, a failing that should move people not to states of reverie but to states of anger at the causes of it and to a firm resolve to eliminate it.

Art and homelessness: what a peculiar and fascinating combination of opposing forces.  I must admit that when I started this project, the significance of such a combination never occurred to me. But now, through a series of seemingly random accidents, I have been introduced to an organization that is devoted to synthesizing those two forces: ArtWorks945. 

ArtWorks945 is an art gallery for the homeless: a place where people who have been marginalized by the cold machinations of the American economic system can go to express themselves through paint.  What a brilliant organization.  What a brilliant synthesis of a thesis and an antithesis.

But that is not all. 

In addition to ArtWorks945, there is another Hegelian synthesis to be had.

As those who have been following this blog know, I was introduced to ArtWorks945 as a result of coming into possession of one of the most intriguing pieces of art in the world – Charlie Spear’s Falling Down Man: a representation of a homeless person that was accidentally damaged and thereby improved by the United States Postal Service. 

Charlie’s painting now contains a thesis and an antithesis.  The thesis: a beautiful, moving and inspired painting.  The antithesis: accidental damage.

I have repeatedly made the claim that this particular thesis and antithesis have been synthesized into a painting that is quite literally one of a kind:  Charlie’s painting is one of the purest instances in the world of the category – painting that is accidentally damaged but thereby improved.

Of course, it is one thing for me to make such a claim and quite another for the market to respond to it.  

So what is Falling Down Man’s economic value?  How will the market respond to the synthesis of aesthetic value and damage?

I don’t know.  But I can’t wait to find out. 

The auction is this Friday at the Summit Coffee Shop, from 8 - 10.  

Somehow, I think the Universe will be there.  I hope others are too.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Another Auction!

The cumulative auction has so far raised $582.21.  It’s not the $10,000 that I asked the Universe for.  But it’s more than had been bid two weeks ago.  So I am happy about that.

I want to thank everyone who has so far bid on Charlie’s painting.  Not only have your contributions made this project both more interesting and worthwhile, but they will also end up going to a very worthy and important organization.

So I am happy and thankful, which is I suppose an appropriate state of mind for the Monday after Thanksgiving.  But even better still, I am excited. 


Because Tyler Helfrich, director of ArtWorks945, is organizing a live auction for Charlie’s painting. 

When I told Charlie about a month ago that the bid on his painting had reached $400, he sent me a very thought provoking message.  He suggested that I could turn the money already bid into both more money for ArtWorks945 and greater awareness of homelessness by making prints of Falling Down Man and selling them.  Charlie volunteered to sign the first 100 prints.

I showed Charlie’s message to Tyler; and we talked about ways to continue raising money with his painting.  She liked his idea and thought that a first step toward it might be a live auction at which we sell both his painting and other paintings produced at ArtWorks945.  And since Tyler’s brother in law owns Summit Coffee Shop, she suggested that we hold a live auction there

So that’s what is going to happen.  We are going to hold an auction at Summit Coffee Shop on December 9 from 8-10.  This time, the auction will be a real one – whoever bids the most for Falling Down Man will get to keep it.  And as with the auction going on now, all the money will go to ArtWorks945.

Who knows?  Maybe an art collector from the Charlotte area will realize the historical significance of Charlie’s painting and end up biding $10,000 for it.  Now, wouldn’t that be something?

Monday, November 14, 2011


It has been two weeks since anyone has bid on Charlie’s painting.  And I must admit, yesterday I started to feel abandoned by the Universe.  Surely, I thought, Charlie’s painting is worth WAY more than the $400 that people have so far bid.  And ArtWorks945 is such a great organization that people should be lining up to add to the cumulative bid.  What’s going on?  Why can’t I drum up more interest in this project?

As I chopped the vegetables for a chicken casserole I was making last night, such thoughts started to swirl in my head; and as can often happen with negative thought patterns, they built to something of an absurd crescendo: people are selfish; Bernie Madoff is just the tip of the iceberg; Henry VIII chopped of Ann Boleyn’s head just because he was tired of her!  My God, My God – what’s going to happen to humanity?

But as I put the casserole in the oven, my lovely wife came into the kitchen – she must have sensed my dour mood -- and gave me a hug.  Immediately, I felt better.  And then, as if her presence reminded me of something greater, it occurred to me that I haven’t yet asked the Universe for any help. 

Throughout this blog, I have told the Universe what I wanted.  Indeed, this whole project is something of an experiment in its power.  And so far, the Universe has shown itself to be quite a remarkably ally.  So my feelings of abandonment were, I reckoned premature.  At the very least I need to tell the Universe what I want.

So that raised the question: what do I want? 

As I went to bed last night I mulled that question over.  And just before I drifted off to sleep, I thought: the race goes to the swift, the battle to the strong, so why not admit to the Universe that you want a lot?

I realize now that such a thought doesn’t make too much sense.  I was, as said, drifting off to sleep.  Nonetheless, I am going to be honest: I want this auction to raise a lot of money for ArtWorks945.

So, Universe:

I want to raise $10,000 from the auction for Falling Down Man.
I want to raise $10,000 from the auction for Falling Down Man.
I want to raise $10,000 from the auction for Falling Down Man.

There.  I’ve done it.   Now, we’ll see what happens.

Anyone who wants to add to the cumulative bid on Charlie’s painting, go to this website:

When you enter your information, be sure to write in the comments box: For ArtWorks945/The Van Gogh Project.

The auction will run for only one more month.  But who knows, Virginia, maybe wishes really can come true.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


That is how much Charlie’s painting has brought in so far.

So what does that mean? 

First, it means that I have thrown a conceptual uppercut to the Appraiser’s thesis.   Since I only went to one Mixed Martial Arts class, I don’t reckon I could throw a real upper cut that would do anyone much harm.  But I do think that the Appraiser’s thesis, namely that that the damage to Charlie’s painting has rendered it worthless, has been sufficiently refuted. 

Second, it means that Charlie’s painting now bears two historically significant marks.  Not only is it perhaps the purest example of a painting that has been improved as a result of inadvertent damage but it is also the source of empirical evidence against the worldview that in a previous post I called Appraisery

Appraisery is a worldview that emphasizes the importance of money both in human affairs in general and in matters of art in particular.  It is a worldview against which it makes perfect sense to assert that Falling Down Man is worthless as a result of its damage.  Likewise, it is a worldview against which it makes sense to say that homeless people are worth less than others because they have been economically damaged. 

The fact that Charlie’s painting has brought in such a sizeable chunk of money provides, I contend, empirical evidence against Appraisery.  Anyone who has delved into philosophical affairs will know just how difficult it is to gather evidence for or against a worldview.   And I at least know of no other painting that can claim to be the source of such evidence.  So Charlie’s painting, as I have just mentioned, now bears a second quite interesting historically significant mark.

And what is perhaps most pleasing from a conceptual point of view is the fact that the evidence against Appraisery has come from people’s willingness to donate money.  Conceptually speaking, it is as if money has eaten itself.  Indeed, there is such a beautiful irony to the evidence against Appraisery that I can’t help but once again feel the hand of the Universe at play.

In addition to these conceptual issues, the money so far bid for Charlie’s painting also has practical implications. 

I asked Tyler Helfrich, the director of Artworks945 for a list of their expenses.  Here are some of them.

10-ride bus passes for job searches  -- $14 each

1-ride passes to help artists get to appointments and interviews -- $30/month

Acrylic paint -- $100-$200/month

Canvases -- $5 each; $100/month

A large-scale canvas for collaborative paintings -- $80 each (one per month)

These are just a few of their expenses.  Clearly, running an art gallery for the homeless is an expensive affair.  And the amount Charlie’s painting has so far raised is really a drop in a very large bucket. 

But that is all the more reason to hope that people continue to bid on his painting. 

So anyone who wants to contribute to a great organization or who wants to add more evidence against Appraisery, please go to the following page where you can donate money to ArtWorks945. 

In the comments section, be sure to put the words: For ArtWorks945/The Van Gogh Project.  In that way, your money will go to ArtWorks945, and I will be able to track the increasing evidence against the Appraiser’s worldview.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Knockout!

Well, ok.  Maybe I’m exaggerating.  It might be more of a knockdown or maybe even a shove.  But ‘Shove!’ hardly work as a headline.  And if I stick to the precise letter of the view that she expressed, the appraiser has indeed been knocked out.

Recall: the appraiser said the damage to Charlie’s painting made it worthless.  WORTHLESS.  To my ear that means I wouldn’t be able to sell his painting for any money. 

Well, appraiser, the bid for Falling Down Man has now reached $42.12.

Now, I realize that $42.12 is not a huge amount of money.  But still, $42.12 is more than nothing.  So I do feel that the appraiser has been shown to be wrong.

Of course, as in all things conceptual, there are some objections one might make at this point.

Objection #1

I haven’t strictly speaking sold Charlie’s painting.  To sell Charlie’s painting requires finding an individual buyer who is willing to put down a certain amount of money for it.

Objection #2

The bids came from my wife and two friends.  (Thank you Lisa, Paul and Keyne!)  But that doesn’t count.  I have to get bids from people I don’t know.  Otherwise, I haven’t really sold Charlie’s painting but have cajoled people into supporting my project.

Objection #3

$42.12 is nothing.  It’s not nothing in the strict sense.  But come on!  It’s hardly something. 

Ok.  I admit.  These are pretty good objections. 

I don’t think I can really answer the third objection at the moment.  Instead, I’ll just have to wait to see if more people bid on Charlie’s painting.  And if some of those people are relative strangers (or at least people over whom I don’t have any undue influence), then the second objection will be answered as well.

But what about the first objection?   From a conceptual point of view, I think the first objection is the most interesting.  I also think I have an answer to it.  But I will wait until the next post to give that answer, since it is a bit long winded. 

Before I end, however, let me remind anyone reading about the procedure to bid on Charlie’s painting.

You need to go to the following webpage, which will allow you to make a donation to UrbanMinistry.  In the comments section, which appears after you have entered your information, you should write: For ArtWorks945/The Van Gogh Project.

So anyone who thinks Charlie's painting is worth more than $42.12 and who would like to make a donation to ArtWorks945, please put in a bid.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Auction


After much stretching and turning of ideas in my head, I have decided to hold a cumulative auction for Charlie Spear’s Falling Down Man. 

I am not sure whether there is such thing as a cumulative auction.  As a relative outsider to both the art and fundraising worlds, I don’t know the range of events that people hold in order to mix money and art.  It wouldn’t surprise me much were a cumulative auction to have been held and for the words ‘cumulative auction’ to have a fixed meaning already.  But just to make sure that people understand what I intend to do, here is what I mean by ‘cumulative auction’.

A cumulative auction gives people a chance people to do two things at once: (1) donate money to a cause; and (2) help express their sense of how much a painting is worth.

In this case, the cause is ArtWorks945, an art gallery for the homeless in Charlotte; and the painting, as should be clear by now, is Falling Down Man. 

When you ‘bid’ on Charlie’s painting, you need not bid as if you were trying to buy the painting.  Rather, you will add to the total that has already been bid.  Any money bid will go to ArtWorks945.  So you can think of your bid as a donation if you like.  But you can also see it as a way to express your opinion that Charlie’s painting is worth more than what has already been bid.

And where will Charlie’s painting go at the end of the auction? 

Well, it seems to me that there are two possibilities.  It could go to the person who has put in the most money toward the cumulative total.  I think that this is an attractive option, since it would retain some of the feel of a regular auction.  People who wanted to own the painting outright would obviously have an incentive to put in a larger amount of money than anyone else. 

I think I would have chosen that possibility if there weren’t in this particular case another obvious and it seems to me deserving recipient of the painting.  Tyler Helfrich, the director of ArtWorks945, has told me that they intend to start a permanent collection of art.  As of yet, they have no paintings in their collection.  When I discussed the possibility of a cumulative auction with Tyler, we agreed that Charlie’s painting would be a wonderful first piece in their collection.

So Charlie’s painting will go to ArtWorks 945.

To ‘bid’ on Charlie’s painting, you need to do three things.

(1)  Click on the following link, which will take you to the UrbanMinistry donation page.  

(UrbanMinistry is the homeless shelter to which ArtWorks945 is connected.  Here is a link to its website:  http://www.urbanministrycenter.org/)

(2)  Follow the instructions that will allow you to donate however much money you want to donate.  In other words, ‘bid’ on Charlie’s painting.
(3)  Write the following words in the Comments Box that appears after you enter your information: ArtWorks donation for the Van Gogh Project.

This last step is particularly important -- it is the only way the money will be designated for ArtWorks945; and it is the only way I’ll know how much money has been bid for Charlie’s painting. 

And that’s it. I’ll let the auction run for two months. 

I can’t wait to see what happens.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I am sorry to have been so absent on this blog lately.  My life has been very hectic in the last month.  As I mentioned in my last post, teaching always cuts into my freedom to write, think and in general lounge around.  But there has been another cause of my lack of free time lately: two weeks ago I got engaged.

When I started this project, Lisa, my fiancĂ©, hadn’t yet moved into my house.  For those who haven’t read the very first few posts I wrote, my house was the motivation for the Van Gogh project in the first place.  When I bought the house, I thought to myself (and still do think to myself quite often) that a Van Gogh would look just great on one of its walls.  And so I decided to try to trade up to one of his paintings.

Anyone following the blog will know that I had made some genuine progress.  Indeed, by my calculations, I had gotten 1/10th of the way to a Van Gogh.  But then, as those who have been reading the blog will also know, the USPS chucked a spear into a painting I had traded for and so altered the course the project was taking. 

I am now planning to auction off the painting in question – Charlie Spear’s Falling Down Man -- as something of an experiment concerning aesthetic value.  Of course, that means that I won’t be able to continue my quest for a Van Gogh and hence that I will quite likely never end up owning one.  But at the moment, I couldn’t care less.  Why?  Because I now get to have something in my house every day that is way more beautiful than any of Van Gogh’s paintings: Lisa.

I have learned that it really is good to thank the Universe for bringing goodness into one’s life.  So I can’t help but tell the Universe:

Thank you!
Thank you!
Thank you!

And I can’t help but tell Lisa: I love you.

In my next post, which I plan on writing very soon, I will give an update on the auction.  It really is very closer to taking place.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Delays, Changes, and A New Plan

The beginning of the school year always throws me off.  I suppose that I shouldn’t be too surprised by that.  I go from having nothing but free time for three months to a life of real responsibility.  But every year I find myself in a state of near total confusion:  wait, this is what most people do every day?  How do they manage?   How am I going to get rich?  Surely, I can’t put up with the indignity of going to work every day for the next few months.   

After about a week or so of thrashing about, however, I usually settle down and even come to enjoy the rhythms of the school year.  But during the first part of the year, I get very little done besides complaining to my girlfriend about how unjust the world is.

That is part of the explanation for my not writing a blog entry recently.   But there is another reason: I have become increasingly less satisfied with my idea of holding the auction for Charlie’s painting at the Brickhouse and have been trying to figure out what to do before writing something.

I have two reasons for my dissatisfaction.  First, planning and holding an event takes an enormous amount of organizational skill.  Now, I do have my ally, Shelly.  And she has been quite helpful in generating ideas.  But as we have been talking about the matter I have realized just how difficult it is to pull off a successful event of the sort we had envisioned. 

The second reason, however, is what really has persuaded me.  If I hold the auction at the Brickhouse, I will lose the potential participation of everyone on the internet including just about everyone who has been reading this blog.  And that strikes me as a very bad move.  Why would I want to limit the number of people who might bid on Charlie’s painting to the few who might show up the night of the auction?  To my mind, that makes very little sense.

So, I have a new plan:  I am going to conduct the auction right here on this blog.  How I am going to do that is still a bit of a mystery to me, since conducting an auction on the internet is as new to me as conducting an auction at a bar.  But the basic idea seems pretty straightforward.  And I even have a new wrinkle.

I will conduct two different types of auction: one will be cumulative; and one will be non-cumulative.  I will explain in my next post what exactly that means and why I want to have two different auctions.  But I will say that I am now as excited about the new two-fold plan as I was about the old plan.  And since I have finally grown accustomed to the cloak of responsibility, I should be able to post my next entry fairly soon.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Yesterday, I visited ArtWorks945 again. This time I brought my camera so that I could take pictures of the art there.

Although I didn’t get to talk to all of the artists, I did talk briefly with some of them.

Here is a little bit about them and their art.

William Pumphrey

Ever since visiting the U.S.S. North Carolina at the age of 13, William has been obsessed with naval history. He has collected what he describes as a library of books devoted to the topic.

William makes remarkably intricate models of World War II ships from garbage he collects on the street.

The model displayed here is called ‘Fukushima’ in honor of the nuclear disaster that recently struck Japan.

Paul Kolbe

Paul paints beautiful landscapes. He has been painting since he was 15.

He shares with his landscapes a self-reflective intensity.

Leroy Philips

Believe it or not, this is Leroy’s first painting.

Although he is quite an accomplished drawer, this is the first time that he put paint on a canvas. I was thrilled to get picture of it.

Christopher Johnson

Christopher didn’t like this hand -- he erased it shortly after I took this picture. But he loves to draw.

Michael and Chris

Michael and Chris sew stuffed animals.

Michael has been sewing animals for eight years now, and Chris has joined Michael in the last four months.


I didn’t get to meet Tatiana, but I had to include at least one of her paintings, since they have such an amazing intensity.

Tatiana has one leg and signs most of her paintings ‘anonymous’.

Many more artists produce art at ArtWorks945 – I was only able to talk to the few that were there when I visited.  The collection of art is, to say the least, inspiring.

ArtWorks945 holds an auction every year.  This year the auction will take place September 10, 5-7 at their gallery at 945 North College Street, Charlotte 28206.  Anyone interested in any of these paintings, or any of the many other paintings, produced by some remarkable artists should be sure to attend.  Without a doubt, it will be time -- and if you purchase a painting, money -- well spent.

Monday, July 25, 2011

An Adversary, An Ally, and a Plan

I ran into Betsy and Dexter at the Brickhouse a few days ago and talked to them about the latest developments with Charlie’s painting. I mentioned that I now had an adversary -- the Appraiser; and they both agreed that if I could only find an ally I would have everything I could possibly want.

I must admit -- I found Betsy and Dexter very persuasive. What more does anyone need in life than an adversary and an ally?

Of course, it is one thing to want an ally and quite another thing to have one. After all, it’s not as if you can just go online and order one.

But once again, the Universe has seen fit to give me what I need.

Remember Dom? Yes, Dom. The artist extraordinaire, the visionary who produced Face With Line Through It, the artist whose work began the Van Gogh Project?

Well, he’s not my ally. But I feel pretty confident that he will be willing to help out however he can. Why? Because even though he’s not my ally, his mom is.

Shelly -- that is Dom’s mom -- works for the Nascar Foundation, which raises money for charity organizations. Yes, believe it or not, Dom’s mom holds fundraisers for a living. And better yet, when I asked Shelly whether she would help me arrange an auction for Charlie’s painting, she couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.

And we have at least the beginning of a plan.

We have gotten as far as figuring out where to hold the auction -- The Brickhouse. Nick, the owner of the Brickhouse, is a very generous man who has held many fundraisers. He also is an avid photographer as well as a patron of the arts. I haven’t yet asked him if he would be willing to hold this particular fundraiser, but I feel very hopeful that he will.

And we have two tentative months: October and February.

That’s about all we have – a place and two tentative plans. But I figure that is good enough for having at least the beginning of a plan.

So I now have an adversary, an ally, and a plan (sort of). If I could just get a little press, I might have a fighting chance against the Appraiser.

Friday, July 15, 2011


That’s what she said: Charlie’s painting is worthless.

And who is she?

I wish I could say that she is a two-headed, bile slurping she-beast who lives in a cave beneath Yugoslavia.

But I can’t. Indeed, quite the opposite -- she is a very lovely owner of an art gallery here in town. I am quite fond of taking the twenty-minute walk to her gallery and looking at the paintings hanging on her walls. When I am lucky, she takes time to talk to me about the various artists who have made the paintings and the various techniques that they employ.


She is also a professional art appraiser.

So it seemed entirely reasonable that I should ask her what she thought of Charlie’s painting now that it has been damaged. And though, as I said, she is very lovely, I learned that she is also ruthlessly no nonsense. She asserted the following theses, what I shall now call The Appraiser’s Theses.

Appraiser’s Thesis #1: Charlie’s painting is worthless. (She actually said that the painting is either worthless or seriously diminished in value.)

Appraiser’s Thesis #2: A painting’s worth is determined by a set of rules that more or less track the status of an artist in the ‘art realm’.

Appraiser’s Thesis # 3: When a painting becomes damaged, the damage reduces or eliminates the value of the painting.

Appraiser’s Thesis # 4: Marcel Duchamp’s painting Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even is worth as much as it is because: (i) it was a great painting by a great artist; and (ii) Duchamp rectified the damage that was done to it by putting the broken glass back in its place.

Appraiser’s Thesis #5: The category – art that has been accidentally damaged but thereby improved -- is an inconsequential and hence valueless category.

I must admit that I was initially distressed by the Appraiser’s Theses. After all, they don’t bode well for the auction I want to hold for Falling Down Man. But then, as I walked back to my house, I began to realize that despite asserting such disquieting theses, the owner of the gallery had actually given me an invaluable gift: an adversary.

In every endeavor of any worth, there is always an adversary. Achilles had Hector; Napolean had Wellington; Patton had Rommel.

And now…I have The Appraiser.

Now, let me be clear. I in no way intend the phrase, 'The Appraiser', to refer to the owner of the art gallery with whom I talked, since I really do like her and she was acting in utter good faith when she gave me her opinion about Charlie’s painting.

No, I like to think that ‘The Appraiser’ refers to something like an abstract idea, one that represents a worldview.

At the core of that worldview are the five theses I just articulated. But more important than those theses is what lies at the periphery of the worldview: a collection of allegiances forming a tangled web that ensnares us all.

Here are some of those allegiances:






In other words, at the periphery of The Appraiser’s worldview are things that Van Gogh lacked. Indeed, he didn’t just lack them. He utterly lacked them.

And somehow that makes me happy: it makes me think that the Appraiser’s worldview is seriously defective. Moreover, it makes me want to give the worldview a name that sounds as defective as the worldview itself. So I will call it:


As I said, I think Appraisery must be false. And I hope that at least some others agree with me, since on Tuesday I visited Arts945. Just as a reminder, Art945 is the art gallery for the homeless to which I will donate the money from the sale of Charlie’s painting. It is an incredible place run by remarkable people. And I am hoping that at least some people who attend the auction will reject Appraisery so that I can raise some money for such a cool organization.

But I have learned that I can do more than hope. I can also tell the Universe what I want.

So, Universe:

I want enough people to reject Appraisery that I will be able to raise a significant amount of money for Arts945 from the sale of Falling Down Man.

I want enough people to reject Appraisery that I will be able to raise a significant amount of money or Arts945 from the sale of Falling Down Man.

I want enough people to reject Appraisery that I will be able to raise a significant amount of money or Arts945 from the sale of Falling Down Man.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Very shortly after deciding to auction off Falling Down Man and donate money from the sale to a homeless shelter, I had the most remarkable stroke of luck.

As I was walking to a local art gallery that is framing a painting for me I ran across my friend Chris Biby, who was talking to a friend of his, Brian, whom I had not yet met.

I had a lovely conversation with Brian. I learned among other things that he had been a student where I now teach and that he is a writer. Eventually, conversation turned toward his wife, Tyler, who, it turns out is the director of an art gallery for the homeless in Charlotte.

I really, truly at that moment couldn’t believe my luck. What better organization could I hope to donate money to from the sale of Charlie’s painting than one that is an art gallery for the homeless?

So I asked Brian for his wife’s e-mail address, contacted her and have arranged to meet with her on Tuesday of next week. I quite simply cannot wait. It looks like an incredible organization. It is called Arts945, which is part of a larger organization devoted to homelessness called the Urban Ministry Center.

Here is a link:


I must admit that events like this always have a peculiar effect on me. I can’t help but start thinking about the nature of coincidence. Was it a mere coincidence that I ran into the husband of the director of a gallery for the homeless just moments after making a decision that required me to find just such a person? Or was it…I can barely bring myself to say this…part of a plan? Or, just to play the part of a philosopher, is it possible that the dichotomy I have just drawn is a false one and that there are perhaps other options -- is it possible that the meeting was neither mere coincidence nor part of a plan?

I usually try to avoid asking those sorts of questions, since I have found that pursuing them too seriously can make you do crazy things like go to graduate school in philosophy. But despite my best efforts, I can’t quite seem to shake them in this case.

I mean, what the fuck?

Really, Universe, what the fuck?

I don’t mean that in a bad way. I’m incredibly grateful. But if you are going to keep this up, I might have to start doing some real thinking again about the nature of coincidence.

And I got tenure a few years ago, which is supposed to mean that I don’t have to think all that hard anymore.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Betsy and Dexter

One of the great things about my house is that it is one block away from the Brickhouse, which is the only bar in the town where I live. And one of the great things about the Brickhouse is running into Betsy and Dexter, who are not only a very lovely couple but who also enjoy talking about art.

I have been doing a bit of thinking about the auction I want to hold for Charlie’s painting but, as usual, haven’t done much research into the matter. (That happens to be an occupational hazard of going into philosophy: too much thinking, not enough doing.) At any rate, it seems to me that I have a few options: I could hold the auction informally on this blog; or I could hold it through an auction house, either online or in an actual house. Which to do? I’m not sure. (That’s another occupational hazard: uncertainty.)

As I was mulling over the auction options at the Brickhouse, I happened to see Betsy and Dexter. We started chatting about what I should do with Charlie’s painting. Although they didn’t solve the problem as to where I should hold the auction, they did suggest to me that I donate all the money I raise from the auction to a homeless shelter rather than just 20%, which is the amount I had cited in my last post.

I was initially a bit luke warm to the idea. After all, doing so would mean the end of the Van Gogh project. Without any money from the auction, I would have no way to buy a painting thereby continuing the project. But when I pointed this out, Betsy looked at me, raised her hands, smiled her irresistible smile, and said: you never know, it could be the beginning of a whole new adventure.

I must admit, I couldn’t help but smile back at Betsy and tell her that she was right: I don’t know -- it could be the start of a whole new adventure. And then I started mulling that idea over – like I said, too much thinking is an occupational hazard. And though I am not sure exactly why I think this is a good idea, (though I do think that the Universe has been leading me in this direction the whole time) I am going to do what Betsy and Dexter suggested. I will donate all the money from the sale of Charlie’s painting to a homeless shelter here in Charlotte.

Maybe Charlie’s painting will fetch nothing.

Or maybe it will, as one of Betsy and Dexter’s friends who was chatting along with us proclaimed, fetch a million dollars.

Either way, I will donate all the proceeds to a homeless shelter.

Now I just need to do some research into homeless shelters in the Charlotte area.

And auctions. I need to do some research into art auctions.

And if I were really diligent, I would mow the lawn as well.

But it’s summer. And the Brickhouse is only a block away.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

An Idea

I’m not sure whether it was the summer solstice or going to a Mixed Martial Arts class. But I think I hit upon an idea.

(Just as an aside, I got my ass kicked when I went to the Mixed Martial Arts class. After thirty minutes of exhausting exercises and another thirty minutes learning two very basic jujitsu moves, I was put up against Marty, a blue belt, who proceeded to throw me around the mat for about five minutes before twisting my arm into some horrible knot causing me to ‘tap out’. To Marty’s credit, he kicked my ass gently. But he kicked it nonetheless.)

Falling Down Man presents a dilemma. I really do believe that it has entered a very select club of paintings as a result of the USPS chucking a spear into it. Moreover, I think that it *should* now be worth quite a bit of money. But of course, I can’t simply pronounce that to be the case. True, I announced Charlie’s Law a few posts ago according to which Falling Down Man doubled in value. But the fact is, the value of Charlie’s painting remains something of a deep mystery.

So how do I proceed? That’s the dilemma. I want to trade Charlie’s painting for another painting. But how much should that painting be worth? What is a reasonable price to put on Falling Down Man now that it has become one of a kind?

I do not know the answers to these questions.

But I’ve decided that there is a way to find out:

An auction.

By holding an auction, I can let the market dictate a price. That might not be the ideal way to figure out Falling Down Man’s worth. But I’m not sure what other way there is.

In the not too distant future, therefore, I will hold an online auction. Because Falling Down Man concerns the homeless, I have decided to give 20% of the proceeds to a homeless shelter in Charlotte, which is the city closest to where I live. And I will take the remaining money and purchase a painting with it.

It won’t be a trade. But it should be an interesting experiment. And I hope that it will also allow me to move upward in my pursuit of a Van Gogh.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Power Thesis

It’s amazing the lack of clarity that a lack of sleep brings on. But at least some of this seems to make sense to me at the moment.

I want to name another thesis. So I will. I will name it the Power Thesis, or PT for short.

The Power Thesis: Power trumps beauty.

What does PT mean? I’m not sure exactly. But I think a lot of people would accept it.

Conceptually, PT is a close cousin to another thesis that I will call the Time Thesis, or TT for short.

Time Thesis: Time conquers all.

TT, like PT, is appealing. Indeed, I’d likely declare TT to be even more appealing than PT, though I would of course understand completely why someone might disagree.

Yes, PT and TT are both appealing. But the fun doesn’t stop there, since PT and TT together entail what I have before called the Money Thesis, (though I must admit that I don’t think I could demonstrate the entailment – I blame it on the lack of sleep.)

Money Thesis: Economic value tracks aesthetic value.

And still the fun doesn’t end, since the Money Thesis and the following plausible thesis about the nature of value entail a radical claim about moral value.

Value Invariance Thesis: The fundamental status of value is invariant across domains.

If the Value Invariance Thesis is true, then what is true of aesthetic value, at least in terms of its fundamental properties, is also true of moral value.

The Money Thesis and the Value Invariance Thesis together entail what I shall call the Brick in the Wall Thesis, or BitWat for short.

BitWat: Economic value tracks moral value.

BitWat can be considered the core thesis in Economy Ethics, a relatively obscure but nonetheless influential ethical position.

If BitWat is true, a person’s moral worth is commensurate with his or her economic worth.

To my ears, BitWat sounds as if it must be false.

But it’s not that easy, at least from a conceptual point of view – you can’t just go proclaiming things to be false.

Why? Because BitWat follows (more or less) from PT and TT.

Yes, believe it or not PT and TT together get you BitWat. So rejecting BitWat requires rejecting either PT or TT.

Now, it seems to me that, TT has to be true – after all, time does conquer all. So I don’t think I would be willing to give up TT.

So it all comes down to PT. Should I give up PT?

Or does power trump beauty after all?

That, as they say, is the question.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Waiting For Mordot

It is funny how greedy I can be. I haven’t yet received an offer for Falling Down Man that I want to pursue and so have been wondering why the Universe has abandoned me.

But that’s crazy! It’s only been a few weeks since the Universe gave me a great gift.

The USPS chucked a spear into Charlie’s painting thereby doubling its value and allowing me trade up along the OJ scale. The Universe couldn’t have given me a clearer sign that getting a Van Gogh is a genuine possibility.

I should be reveling in its generosity.

But instead I already want more.

Of course, I haven’t done two things that I need to do in order to keep the Universe on my side.

I haven’t gone to an MMA class yet even though I feel certain that the Universe wants me to go to at least one.

And I haven’t yet told the Universe what I want.

But…I have laid the groundwork for both of these.

Last night I went to an MMA studio to find out how much the classes are. It’s $100 a month for an unlimited amount of instruction in ass kicking. I am going to go to a class tonight as a trial run.

And I have thought quite a bit about what I want from the Universe.

Charlie’s painting is now worth 4 OJ, which puts me one tenth of the way to a Van Gogh. If I could jump to a 10 OJ painting, I would be one fourth of the way there. And that would be pretty amazing, especially since two significant events are approaching.

The first is the one-year anniversary of the Van Gogh Project.

And the second is the summer solstice.

How awesome would it be to find myself one fourth of the way to a Van Gogh on the summer solstice just one year after starting this project?

I’ll answer that question: it would be pretty fucking awesome.

So, Universe:

I want someone to trade a painting worth 10 OJ for Charlie Spear’s Falling Down Man.
I want someone to trade a painting worth 10 OJ for Charlie Spear’s Falling Down Man.
I want someone to trade a painting worth 10 OJ for Charlie Spear’s Falling Down Man.

If anyone wants to trade a 10 OJ painting for Charlie Spear’s Falling Down Man, let me know.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

1/10th of the Way There

I know it sounds crazy. But by my reckoning, I am just about one tenth of the way to a Van Gogh.

After Charlie saw the significance of what had happened to his painting, he said that he thought it had probably doubled in value. I agree. After all, as a result of its being damaged by the USPS, it entered a category occupied by very few paintings. And surely, such a fact increases its value.

Of course, there is no law in the art world that dictates Charlie’s painting doubled in value. But sometimes, when there is no law one simply has to make a law up. So I will. I will call it Charlie’s Law.

Charlie’s Law: When a painting undergoes a radical and accidental change thereby placing it in a completely different and more interesting category of art, it doubles in value.

Prior to being damaged, Charlie’s painting was worth 1.3 J’s. So now, after being damaged, it is worth 2.6 J’s.

The increase in J-value is good. But, as I talked about in a previous post, the measure I am most concerned with is the OJ. (Just as a reminder, an OJ is ten times the log of J. A cheap Van Gogh would be around 40 OJ’s).

After getting Jeanette’s Dora Maar, I wanted to see whether I could ascend the OJ scale. I had hoped to jump two OJ’s, which would be evidence that I could actually make it to a Van Gogh in a reasonable amount of time.

Well, prior to being damaged, Charlie’s painting was worth 1.14 OJ’s, which is good but not a huge jump.

But now, as a result of Charlie’s Law and basic mathematical facts about logarithms, Falling Down Man is worth 4.45 OJ’s, which is a little more than one tenth of the way to a Van Gogh.

It really is remarkable what math and a little help from the Universe can do.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Spear Chucking

If I were a lawyer, and I had to defend in front of the Supreme Court of Art the thesis that Charlie Spear’s Falling Down Man is not only an instance of the type – piece of art that was accidentally damaged by human agency but nonetheless improved or in some way completed by the damage – but is perhaps the purest such instance in the world, I would read the following bullet points in increasing volume until I was shrieking the last one as loudly as I could. Then I would bow and scurry out of the room.

I. Falling Down Man is about the homeless at a time when homelessness is an increasingly serious and troubling problem in the United Sates.

II. The United States Postal Service abused Falling Down Man. (Everyone who has seen the painting agrees that it is difficult to imagine what could have brought about such damage.)

III. The symbolic connections between the abuse of a painting about the homeless carried out by a government agency and the abuse that the homeless suffer no doubt at least partly due to the United States government are so obvious and so poignant that Charlie Spear immediately felt the painting had been taken to a completely new level.

IV. Falling Down Man was already, before the abuse, an eloquent painting by an extremely prolific, well-established artist.

V. Those who have seen Falling Down Man in person think that it has been added to and perhaps even improved visually because of the damage – there is now a three dimensionality to it that wouldn’t be there were it flat.

VI. Finally, unlike Duchamp's Bride no one has altered Falling Down Man since it was damaged.

Scurry. Scurry. Scurry.

I believe the Supreme Court of Art would rule in my favor. Indeed, the case seems to me so overwhelmingly strong that I can’t help but think that the Universe played a role in the whole event. It just strikes me as so terribly peculiar. I think that Charlie is right: there is more going on here than the mere physical.

In any case, I do think that this event calls for a new term of art, a term that denotes the kind of action that the USPS performed.

In honor of Charlie Spear, I will call such an act 'Spear Chucking'.

To chuck a spear is to accidentally damage a painting only thereby to bring about its improvement.

Very few have chucked a spear into a work of art.

The USPS, however, chucked a spear into Falling Down Man.

Little did the USPS know, though, that Falling Down Man would stand up and thrive as a result of their spear chucking.

One must certainly hope that one day the same will be true of the homeless that Falling Down Man represents.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Some More Loosely Connected Thoughts

One great thing about teaching at a college is the ability to send esoteric questions over e-mail to the faculty and expect some kind of interesting response.

A few days ago I asked my colleagues whether anyone knew of interesting examples involving damaged art that is deemed by the artist to have been completed or improved in some way by the damage.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Perhaps most importantly, someone reminded me of Duchamp’s name – I recalled the incident from an art history class I once took but couldn’t remember his name.

But I had many other great responses and interesting examples sent to me.

For instance, I learned about auto-destructive art:

Auto-destructive art is art that contains within itself an agent that automatically leads to its destruction within a period of time not to exceed twenty years. http://www.391.org/manifestos/1960metzger.htm

I learned about a British sculptor, Cornelia Parker, who likes to blow things up and put them back together. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelia_Parker

I learned that the architects of the rebuilt de Young museum in San Francsico intended for the gradual corrosion of the copper exterior to be part of the artistic vision. http://deyoung.famsf.org/about/architecture-and-grounds

And many more things.

I also received an opinion about the category in question that concurs with mine. Ruth Beeston said to me:

I think that occurrences like you are seeking- where a work is "enhanced" in the artists' eyes as a result of an accidental or deliberate act by someone else- must be fairly rare. I'd be interested in hearing about any genuine examples you come up with.

I think Ruth is right. It does seem to me that the number of paintings of this type would be very rare.

But I also think that Charlie’s painting is one such instance. Falling Down Man may not be one of a kind; but it certainly is a member of a very small club.

I realize, however, that I haven’t yet made an explicit case for the claim that Charlie’s painting is a member of that club.

In my next post, I will.

Monday, May 23, 2011


I am feeling very discombobulated today. I had hoped to write an eloquent post about Falling Down Man. But I’m not up to it.

So here instead are a series of loosely connected thoughts.

Charlie's painting, as a result of its subject matter, its quality and its being damaged by the USPS, has joined a remarkably small group of significant paintings.

The most famous example of such a painting is Duchamp’s ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even’, which hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


A quote from Wikipedia about Bride:

Going home from its first public exhibition, the glass broke in its shipping crate and received a large crack in the glass. Duchamp repaired it, but left the cracks in the glass intact, accepting the chance element as a part of the piece.

In one of his notes about Bride, Duchamp wrote: “Can one make works of art which are not ‘of art’?”

Most interpreters agree that Bride was on the edge of what might be called conceptual art.

One could, of course, accept the cracks in a piece of art because one is ‘stuck with them’, or one could accept the cracks because in some sense they better or make more complete the work of art. Duchamp, I think, was doing the latter.

Duchamp was right to do so. The randomness of the cracks fit perfectly with the idea of art that is not ‘of art’.

Most people typically think of damage as decreasing the value, aesthetic and monetary, of a work of art.

But damage could increase value, both aesthetic and monetary.

The following is a category of art: a work that is accidentally damaged by a human agent but that is made better or in some genuine sense more complete by the damage.

This would be analogous to an accident modifying an essence.

There are examples of this in biology.

There are arguably other instances of this in the art world, though many of the most well known examples aren’t quite as pure as Duchamp’s Bride.

Some Examples:

The Liberty Bell.

The Venus de Milo.

The Sphinx.

Problems with the examples:

The Liberty Bell was a bell and so not ‘obviously’ a work of art.

The Venus de Milo would now look worse with arms but that is because we have become used to her without arms, not because the lack of arms completed her or made her better right from the get go.

The sphinx was not so much damaged as subject to a combination of decay and damage by a number of distinct individuals. Moreover, it may look weird were it restored now; but it no doubt looked absolutely glorious in its day.

Even Duchamp’s Bride is not a pure instance of the category. Why? Because he modified it after the damage.

There are, no doubt, many more examples.

I am more convinced than ever that Charlie Spear’s Falling Down Man is perhaps the purest instance of the type I have described. At the very least, it is the purest instance that I know of.

I will elaborate more in a future post.

Until then, if anyone wants to trade a painting for Falling Down Man, let me know.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Charlie Spear

Charlie Spear painted Falling Down Man while participating in a project to revitalize a poor part of Indianapolis that contains a large number of homeless people.

The buildings of Indianapolis can be seen in the background of Charlie’s painting. In the foreground slouches a marionette of some sort who has fallen and cannot get up.

The marionette clearly represents the homeless.

What an image. I can’t stop scrutinizing the marionette. It has, it seems to me, two faces: one real, one lurking recessed in the knees. The pathos of the homeless almost seeps from it.

I couldn’t be happier with Charlie’s painting. I think it is brilliant. Eloquent and brilliant.

Of course, it is a bit unfortunate that the USPS abused Falling Down Man.

No, that’s not quite right: the USPS ABUSED Falling Down Man.

One really has to see the painting in person to appreciate that fact.

I have had two wonderful conversations with Charlie, one before and one after I got his painting. He of course was a bit upset at what the USPS had done. Here is a statement that he wrote shortly after our last phone conversation.

Hello Paul,

I wanted to write my impressions on seeing and hearing the news of Falling Down Man...as "an abuse of the abused." Poverty is not a declaration of a person’s worth. The sight of the frame and knowing that the work may be destroyed as a whole piece had a ring to it with a spiritual resonance. The crisis this country is in today financially has put a lot of people in Falling Down Man's place. My wife works for WorkOne an arm of Work Force Development of Indiana. She deals with everyday people who worked for 15-20-30 yrs. and find themselves out of a job and out of unemployment. They are stranded in a sense in this financial purgatory or limbo...I know she has probably saved a few people from cashing out. She is a sensitive caring person. Falling Down Man is now more about the possibility of homelessness for anyone.

The sick feeling my wife and I felt when we saw the damage was real. The piece should have made it. This is the first time I have ever seen this kind of treatment from the USPS. Fed Ex and UPS have shipped damaged packages in the past but have gotten better in recent years.

I can't help but think there is something more going on here. Vincent's paintings were about the poor and the destitute. Failing as a preacher he became a painter following the leading of his heart. We look at his art and have a sense of possibilities. Unfortunately after shooting himself he died poor and basically homeless...I still would want the USPS to make this right...but more might be afoot than we see physically.


It has been a true pleasure getting to know Charlie. Among other things, he has helped me to see just what a peculiar fortune the Universe has bestowed upon me.

But why, one might naturally want to know, do I think the Universe bestowed a fortune on me?

The answer to that question is a bit involved and will have to wait for a future post. I will, however, say that it involves Plato and Duchamp.

Oh yes. One last thing: if anyone wants to trade for Charlie Spear’s brilliant and now perhaps historic painting, let me know.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

You've Got To Be Kidding Me!!!!!

That’s what I felt like yelling at the USPS worker when he told me: Well I didn’t do it.

I had been practically gnawing my finger off in excitement at getting Charlie Spear’s painting Falling Down Man.

So when I looked upon the damage that the USPS had wreaked upon Charlie’s painting, I felt like starting a revolution on the spot.

But of course I didn’t. No. After filling out a form and talking with the postal worker, who of course was quite right in pointing out that he wasn’t the one who had warped Charlie’s brilliant painting, I said ‘Thank you’ and walked out of the post office in a daze.

I have included two different pics of Falling Down Man.

The first pic clearly shows the extent to which the frame has been warped.

It is not obvious from the pic, but the frame is incredibly solid. So I can’t imagine how it got warped like that. Someone must have put a piano on it.

The second pic is of the painting as it now appears from the front.

Charlie is an incredible artist, and Falling Down Man is, in my opinion, an incredible painting. I had planned on talking about Falling Down Man and the rest of Charlie’s work. And indeed, I will in a future blog entry. Here are links to two websites where Charlie displays his work.



At the moment, however, I have to turn from Charlie’s work and simply report that the Universe taught me a lesson today. Yes, it did.

One might naturally have thought that I would be downhearted, livid perhaps, at what happened to Charlie’s painting. And I was just briefly. Well not livid exactly but definitely beyond flustered.

Had the USPS just torpedoed the Van Gogh Project? Had I returned to square one? Would anyone trade for a damaged painting? These are the questions that swirled around my head for a few hours.

But as I sat in my chair staring at Falling Down Man, after having talked to Charlie on the phone about what had happened, I inhaled the air around me and suddenly felt incredibly tranquil. My despair quietly receded and I couldn't help but smile.

Believe it or not, I realized that the Universe had just given me an incredible gift.

That may sound crazy. I know. And I'll try to explain myself in a future post.

For now I can only tip my hat to art and the universe.

Yes indeed. Art. It truly is a matter of perspective.

And yes indeed. The Universe. It really does work in mysterious ways.